Maybe you’ve already seen this?

Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007

The man with the violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After three minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

Four minutes later the violinist received his first dollar– A woman threw the money in the hat and without stopping, continued to walk.ย Six minutes later a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked up at his watch and started to walk again.

Ten minutes later a three-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children… Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

Forty-five minutes later and the musician was still playing. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty people gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.00.

One hour later he finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest musicians. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.00.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and people’s priorities. If we don’t have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many other things are we missing?

To me, this experiment might have greater implications. It’s not just about our perception, taking time to smell the roses, recognizing true talent, appreciating beauty, etc., although those are great questions/ideas to ponder. To me this is about listening to our own internal voice above all others. I think we can be heavily influenced and swayed by those around us if we have a fragile sense of self. So many people have this herd mentality – they put more stock in their external measuring stick (comparing, observing what other people are doing and saying in order to conform and stay safe) rather than listening and being guided by their own internal instinct/compass. We’re bombarded with messages on how we should live our lives, think and feel. It takes real strength of character/guts to march to the beat of your own drum. The trick is to feel things for yourself and decide for yourself what is valuable – to hell with what everyone else is saying and doing. Be true to your internal sense of self. Think about politics, religion, the way you live your life, choices you make, big and small — are you following somebody else’s beliefs/feelings/behaviors, or are you following your own?ย 

Sorry this was so lengthy, I thought it was worthwhile…